Sunday, October 10, 2010
Strickly a Book Review
by Lori Devoti
Pocket Books Fantasy
4 spangles out of five (actually a 3.85, but I've rounded up)
Heat: No explicit sex. Violence level isn't gory, either.
First, thanks to Nancy Northcott, who offered the sequel of this volume to me, a series I'd been unaware of, thinking (for some odd reason :^D ) that a Wonder Wacko would be interested. I hate to come in on the middle of things and so started with Book 1 of the Amazons series.
It took some effort to get into this book. It wasn't because of the actual prose, which is tight with vivid description and snappy dialogue. The heroine, Melanippe (Mel), is one of those über-grim urban fantasy types, harboring lots of resentment to the Amazon society she's left. You know the typical urban fantasy chick: they react with their more-than-human fists. Say hello, how are ya? and they punch your lights out. A guy asks if they want to go out for a cup of coffee, and they kick them where it'll hurt most. Anger, anger, anger. The anger, of course, leads these ladies to discovering that they hold even more power within themselves than they had imagined, so that in the end they can inflict more damage. There seems to be little deep brain activity in these femmes. Check out the current run of Wonder Woman to see an unfortunate variation on the type.
Wonder Woman is not an urban fantasy chick. Or at least when they try to make her such, she thus becomes not-Wonder Woman.
The use of the name "Melanippe" was a grabber for me. One of my favorite characters in the Plastic Age WW, despite her crying jags, was the oracle Menalippe, whose name obviously was misspelled from the classic Amazon. I liked seeing her proper name used here. Is that a strange reason?
Now Mel lives rather isolated, running a tattoo parlor in Madison, Wisconsin with her mother and grandmother (warrior and sorceress respectively) and is a sore disappointment to both. She also has a young daughter who barely shows up in the book, far less than she should to be such an important cast member. The daughter is a cypher to us and also to herself, as she doesn't know her Amazon heritage, which Mel has kept secret. (In this kind of environment and with the powers these people employ, how is that accomplished, exactly?)
The book is a murder mystery with serial killings. Mel is the prime suspect, both among the Amazons and the Madison police.
It takes quite some time to discover just what these Amazons are, how they might function (still largely unexplained by the end of the book, but we learn enough to figure out some of the relationships), and that various sets of powers/skills appear to the members of their all-female society. Everyone gets one set. Except a few, and that's where I continued to be confused. Mel, it seems. is one of those multiple-skills folks and she's growing in power in the sorcery department.
And yes, it is undefined sorcery, though there's an attempt in there to try to define it. I'll give the author points for that, but I still detest the use of undefined magick.
So the world-building is very vague for the first, oh, third of the book, and deep characterization is non-existent, so as I said, it makes it difficult to stay with the book. But at some point I began to wonder what would come next and how Mel would straighten out her various relationships. What came next proved interesting and kept me in the story. Unfortunately, Mel and her relationships are left as murky as Mel herself. She begins and ends a creature of resentment, anger and revenge, with motherly feelings toward her daughter (and another, whom you'll discover in the book), and (of course, per urban fantasy rules and the best thing about that sub-genre) two romantic possibilities. But this is not a romance at all, so don't go looking for that kind of thing here. (Even though Mel suddenly and for little if any reason goes all mushy any time she encounters a non-handicapped male. I found that disconcerting.)
So: started off not very interesting, but somewhere in there was interesting enough to read to the end. I'm semi-tempted to pick up the next volume to see if the emphasis on charting this Amazon culture stays the primary focus, or if the characters get some depth to them and learn to operate from something other than angry reaction.